Friday, January 24, 2014

7 QT: Memoirs for the kiddies


 Okay, as promised last week, here goes with the memoirs for kids!  Of course, I absolutely encourage parents to read the books first before handing them off to the young'ns to make sure that you think it is a worthy book.  I think they are good, and the bonus is that at least four of these books are great for boys.

Okay, Amazon.com recommends this book for ages 12 and up, but I remember reading it as a second or third grader and finding it fascinating.  I'm not even a dog person per se but I still loved Paulsen's description of running the Iditarod with his team of huskies.  I believe there's also an audiobook version of this read by the author, which would be fantastic as a complement or even substitute to reading it (if you have reluctant or struggling readers, for example).  


I read this with the 8th graders at my school recently, but the reading level is perhaps better suited to younger readers…it was an easy read for my 8s.  Mrs. McFadden, my 4th grade teacher, read this book aloud to us and we loved it.  If you like Roald Dahl, I think you'll like his memoir and you'll get more insight into the events that made him the writer he is (especially his inspiration for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Matilda."  Be warned, if you or your children are squeamish about descriptions of injuries or shocked by some crazy old-school corporal punishment, then avert your eyes to my next suggestion, which is kinder and gentler.  There is a sequel, Going Solo, which I have not read but is all about his young adult life working in Africa for the Shell Oil Company and flying planes for the RAF.  
Jerry Spinelli has written some great elementary school and YA books (Maniac Magee, Fourth Grade Rats, There's a Girl in my Hammerlock, and Stargirl  are some of my favorites).  He is actually pretty prolific (I saw 30 books listed on his Wikipedia page) and I think he has a knack for writing simple and relatable prose.  It's hard to describe the feeling I get from reading it: it's conversational yet intimate, plainspoken yet engaging.  It has goofy moments and profound ones too.  It's also an excellent  memoir for thinking about how place affects us, just like Annie Dillard's An American Childhood (which I recommended last week).  Spinelli clearly has a deep affection for his hometown in Pennsylvania and his neighborhoods…there is even a map (definitely from a kid's perspective) in the frontispiece of the book.    I highly, highly recommend it.  
My only beef with this book is that after reading it, I STILL don't know how to pronounce the author's last name.  Sizeeka? Shissika?  I don't know.  Maybe I didn't read it closely enough.  I imagine that this book will be a hit with any family with brothers in it.  I think the target audience is probably 8-12 year old boys. Jon Scieszka is second of six boys growing up during the 60s.  He went to Catholic school, so expect some stories about exasperated nuns.  I actually don't recall it being derogatory towards Catholic school (as many tales of Catholic schools seem to be) but maybe I'm just not remembering it well enough.  Lots of stories of brotherly hijnx, though.  
Here's a graphic novel that I picked up during one of our school book fairs and couldn't put down.  It was so engaging!  Half the time I cringed in sympathy for the character and the other half of the time I was laughing at her (mis)adventures.  The memoir recalls the author tripping, falling, and hurting her two front teeth…and then the years (yes, years) of ensuing dental work to try to give her a normal smile again.  It doesn't sound like a fun read, but I thought it was very fun and definitely a page-turner…I wanted to know how it all turned out! It's also something of a coming-of-age story since most of it happens during the author's middle/early high school years, but it's sweet and not nearly as pubertastic as, oh, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.  
Hey all you moms of large families!  Did your groove get thrown off by seeing a certain article claiming that children in large families are getting a raw deal?  Want to hear about one large family that seems to have had an awesome time of it?  You must read this book, and so should your kids!  After reading this book, I felt a bit sorry that I only had three younger siblings instead of eleven.  Everything sounded so fun and exciting!  The Gilbreth parents were efficiency experts and it certainly influenced their family life.  Who knows, maybe you'll learn some helpful tips.  It's not a new book by any means, and apparently they've made a recentish movie of it (which I have not seen and refuse to see because I really doubt it is anything like the book and not in a good way), but it is a classic.  Plenty of hilarity to amuse boys and girls alike.  There is a sequel, Belles on their Toes, which I read once but don't remember well enough to say much about it one way or another.  
Okay, this one actually should NOT be handed off to kids because some of these memoirs are not kid-friendly…so why am I including it?  Because if the parent judiciously selects some of them (and some of them are truly awesome and great for kids to read), they can serve as very fun writing prompts.  Go ahead, try it!  Try summing up your life (or some aspect of it) in six words.  It's a fabulous exercise and even young kids can do it.  I did this with 4th and 5th graders and they thought it was a blast.  I also used some of the photographs in the book as story-starter prompts.
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